Bitless riding gone bad: Have you ever seen a runaway horse or a wreck caused by someone riding without a bit?

07 Aug

Three comments left after my blog on ‘bridling questions’ got me thinking. Here are the comments;

1) Best tip for our horses ever was “go bitless”. So many issues solved with just that little statement.

2) I agree, Why use a bit, if you don’t have to?

3) Would be altogether better for the horse if we banished this archaic form of torture once and for all.

These comments lead me to wonder; Am I the only one with a ‘bitless gone bad’ story?

Teenaged Stacy Westfall and the horse that ran away with her when ridden in a halter. Stacy decided to focus on barrel racing instead.

Teenaged Stacy Westfall and the horse that ran away with her when ridden in a halter. Stacy decided to focus on barrel racing instead.

My story: When I was a teen I decided to try bitless riding for the first time. Actually, I decided to start working toward riding bridleless and I thought that bitless would be a great first choice.

I had owned my horse for several years and I knew her pretty well (or so I thought). On a day to day basis I was pretty sure I could do anything with her that I wanted. I could swim her in the lake, ride down the side of busy roads, dress her in costumes, ride in parades, and we trail rode almost everyday. I had never felt out of control while riding her on a trail ride.

It was a summer day and I mounted up riding in a thin leather halter, a similar diameter to the current rope halters. Before I left home I rode her around the pasture, up and down the driveway and performed all gaits and transitions.

For several miles all went well. Until I met another rider.

At first this didn’t seem to be a problem. The only thing I could see being a problem were if we ran and my horse thought we were racing. Sometimes my friends and I would race and I knew my horse was hard to hold back at those times.

As you can probably guess, there came a point where we were trotting together down the dirt road…then we were loping…then we were running.

I tried pulling.

I tried a sawing motion-left-right-left-right.

I tried pulling as hard as I physically could, then releasing and repeating.

I couldn’t circle because the sides of the road had deep ditches. Based on the fact that she didn’t steer AT ALL when I was sawing left-right-left-right, I doubt I could have turned her anyway. I considered jumping but was the odds were good that I would break something so I ended up just clinging on until she slowed and then I jumped off at the trot and lead my mare home.

I have always believed that this woman, an acquaintance my mother knew, was just wondering if her horse was faster. I don’t think she knew this would put me in danger…although I had yelled several times for her to slow down as things were escalating.

*                       *                            *

The above story was a story from my youth. It was told to give you a glimpse into the mind of a teenager who made a bad decision. The interesting part of the story is that I lacked the ability to know it was a bad decision at the time. My horse and I obviously didn’t have great training and I didn’t see even know I could really get in trouble.

This early experience, along with the knowledge I have now, leads me to believe that not all horses are bitless candidates.  Bits are motivators, horses are individuals and situations vary.

Did you ever try bitless and have a loss of control or know someone who did?


P.S.-added an hour after posting. It has been brought up that mechanical hackmores are being considered part of the bitless group of bridles by many who are commenting. I agree it has no mouthpiece…but oddly enough I had never considered it as one of the ‘bitless’ options. I did ride the above mare in a mechanical hackmore successfully…does that mean she was my first bitless horse?  That might have to be a whole other blog:)


Follow up: I am not against bridleless riding. After much more education I have trained many horses to the highest levels of bridleless riding. Here are a couple of blog that are related:

Stacy Westfall’s first time riding bridleless on Newt 

Stacy Westfall & Vaquero 2011 All American Quarter Horse Congress Freestyle Championship Bridleless

I won over $17,000 showing Roxy in my original wedding dress!


Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Life, Thought provoking


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155 responses to “Bitless riding gone bad: Have you ever seen a runaway horse or a wreck caused by someone riding without a bit?

  1. plantpoweredwoman

    August 7, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    “Bitless” means so many things. Riding bitless in a leather halter is very different from riding bitless in a short shank hackamore for example. I always ride in a hackamore and my horses love it and do well, but I don’t think they would be candidates for bitless halter trail riding!

    • TJ Praagg

      August 7, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Even the indians used a piece of braided leather etc (or whatever) around the horse’s chin/mouth area ….. bitless in a CONTROLLED area only …. JMO … 😃

    • Catherine Clark

      November 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      I go bitless, but that to me using an alternative. I use a rope halter, it’s very stiff with 4 knots in it instead do the usual 2. It works very well because I taught my horse to flex well from the ground on both sides, then made sure he could do it well from the saddle in the arena, then made sure he would also yield his hindquarters. The couple of times I had to use outside the arena it worked like magic. He immediately flexed and came to a stop, if there was room I would yield his hindquarters too. I will never use a bit. I’m not sure how long ago someone decided a hunk of metal in a horse’s mouth was the way to go, seems pretty archaic. If a horse hasn’t been taught to flex and yield from the ground, chances are he’ll run through the bit anyway and I wouldn’t want to be ranking on his mouth.

      • Robin

        November 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

        A couple points here. I’ve seen runaway horses and they all had one thing in common – and it wasn’t the tack. It’s a lack of preparation and education on the part of the rider and the horse and most of all, a lack of trusting relationship between them. If anything, there are probably more wrecks caused by the pain of a bit making a horse crazy, than by going bitless.*intelligently*

        The other point I’d like to make is that a

      • Catherine Clark

        November 17, 2014 at 2:08 pm

        I agree with you Robin. Bits just don’t belong in a horse’s mouth. As far as my stiff halter, I probably over exaggerated that. It not really that stiff but does have 4 knots. My 3 year old Arabian doesn’t even act like it’s there. I would never use it if I thought it pained him. People at the barn think I’m crazy for the great lengths I go to to make sure my horse is tacked up comfortably. I do also use other rope halters. Too many people think a bit is meant to control the horse rather than training it. Eventually I want to go halter less too, but for now my high, spirited Arabian needs a something. Folks who own my barn send their 2 year olds for training , when one came back he seemed traumatized. His mouth was so sensitive he couldn’t take some hay I handed him.

    • Red

      March 11, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      LOVE your answer

  2. Ilsa

    August 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    There are several bits on the market that I would never use however I prefer to ride in a bit….I have always been a firm believer that a bit is only as harsh as the hands that use it. if you teach your horse and yourself how to ride a bit should never be harsh, if it has to be used in a harsh way on a consistent basis then go back to basics!

    • Tarese B.

      August 7, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      I’m with you all the way Ilsa!

    • janine

      August 7, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      AWESOME statement 🙂

  3. Just another day on the farm

    August 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    yes and its pretty much the same story as your, was halter riding, something I had in fact done many times, when a new horse herd appears in a field, ran to the fence, and my horse started running the road, no stopping her till we ran out of field and hit the fence on the other side.. in pasture riding, sure.. trail.. never again

  4. Rachael

    August 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I have had a really good experience riding bitless with some horses and not so good for others. I think it’s all about individualizing.

  5. Laurie Duncan

    August 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I had a horrible fall when I got on my daughters dead broke horse with just a halter to walk him back from arena to his corral. He bolted and ran for a busy street. I pulled and yanked to the side as hard as I could but he ignored me. I jumped off as we were almost to the street and sustained a hideous open ankle fracture. I sure wish I didn’t do that.

    • Connie Lynn

      January 15, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      Sorry about your accident. I hope you’re healed up good as new. But I’ve been in your position on a very well broke horse that bolted in open country. I was riding bitless. So I know that no halter, no matter how stiff, will stop a horse determined to run. It’s not a matter of how well a horse is trained or how prepared a horse and rider are — a horse is bigger and stronger than a person and if it decides to run, it will run. For this reason, we have the bit to help us. I think people who have learned this important lesson will be better off for it. A bit may save their lives some day.

      • Angel

        January 15, 2015 at 11:24 pm

        If anyone thinks a bit is guaranteed to stop a horse, that person doesn’t know horses.

    • Catherine Clark

      January 16, 2015 at 2:44 am

      A horse that wants to run will run through a bit as well. I’ve actually seen a horse’s tongue almost severed by someone who thought the bit was the answer. Glad you’re okay. I haven’t had cause to try it, but we’ve been practicing flexing and yielding the hindquarters from the ground since he was a year old, now we do these under saddle. Even if a one rein stop didn’t work, I’d like to think he’d listen to me an go into doing a circle and then yield the hindquarters and flex to a stop. We practice this a lot just with a halter.

  6. Barbi Canfield

    August 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    That happened to me first time off a lead rope. Genesis was 21/2 at the time and just bolted. Finally after collecting my wits the one reign stop worked beautifully.

  7. Judi Jarnagin

    August 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I am very interested in this. I have been looking on line to purchase a bitless for a 14 year old mare who is the dickens to try to bit. Her teeth are fine, she has been checked out several times. I have worked with her until I am blue in the face. I think I have tried everything I have seen suggested; it is always a fight and I am tired of it. However, if others have had bad experiences, I will stay away from one. Judi

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Judi- Find someone local that is a pro to ride with and get more info no matter which direction you go.

    • Robin McGee

      August 8, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Judi, people have a vast variety of experiences in every aspect of life. The major contributors to the quality of experience they have are always highly individual. In this case, there’s the horse’s level and type of training history, the rider’s skill and attitude toward the horse, the level of trust and communication between them, the type of bitless bridle, the horse’s preparation for understanding the meaning of the bitless sensations on its face and head, and of course the environmental factors – a car backfiring, a dog approaching, someone with an umbrella, weather, etc.

      If YOUR horse doesn’t like the bit, I heartily recommend trying bitless. If you have friends with bitless bridles you can borrow, that’s the best way to try different options without spending a fortune. If not, just start out as if your horse is utterly green. I find that ground driving horses who didn’t previously know it, is a great way to sidestep any established patterns of response. For instance, if a horse has been known to bolt with a rider with a curb bit, snap long lines onto the side rings or bottom ring of a flat halter or the loops under a rope halter. Teach the horse to drive this way. If it’s a new activity, there will be confusion at first. Be patient and help her understand what you want. As she makes these new connections in her brain, she learns to think and trust that you’ll help her, and know how to respond to these non-painful cues. (Many horses that bolt simply stop bolting when the pain of the bit is removed!)

      After she responds well to the driving, use the same setup and ride in an enclosed area. I think you’ll find that you have a great bitless horse! Once she’s going well in a halter, you can check out the various bitless bridle options. If you have the communication you want with the halter, a simple sidepull will work great with her. If you feel that you need ‘something more’, there are cross-under, scawbrig (aka Indian hackamore), and leverage styles. Personally, I don’t like a leverage-based ‘mechanical hackamore’ if it has a functional shank of more than a couple of inches. They’re simply too powerful and can do great damage, even breaking the delicate nosebone.

      Any nose-based bridle must be adjusted well above the nostrils. Look at the nosebone on a horse skull (Photos available online) It’s a thin projection that consists of two sides with a very delicate cartilage joint between, and very easy to break without realizing it.

      Don’t pass on giving your horse a chance to enjoy riding, and giving yourself a chance to have a happier relationship with your horse. Give bitless a try, in a safe and sensible way.

  8. Sherri Ewton Raguth

    August 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I have the utmost respect for you Stacy but this post makes me sad. I’ve worked with Nurtural Horse Bitless Bridles since 2010 and the number of horses who were NOT bitless candidates numbers at about 1% of the ones who have transitioned perfectly. I have a strong suspicion that that 1% failed due to the rider’s mindset. I wish you had researched bitless bridles today and possible have re-visited what it takes to go bitless before leaving it like this. How about it? We’d love to send you a Nurtural and help you at least revisit the idea of going bitless.

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      The post was not intended to make people sad…or angry…or all worked up. I was just really wondering if I was the only one out there who had made mistakes going down the road towards bitless. For goodness sake…I sell a DVD called “Bridleless Riding”, lol! But I do often wonder when people are so totally anti-bits. Judging by the reaction here it is a very touchy subject. I do love learning though and would love to learn more. Send me an email if you get a chance at the info@westfallhorsemanship address.

      • hpiltz

        August 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        I acquired a 15-yr old Icelandic mare a year ago, who was pretty unresponsive to her snaffle bit, (I had to circle her in order to stop) and resented saddles in general. I ordered a bitless bridle from New Zealand (stockhorse model)
        and a special bareback pad, and she seems comfortable with both so far. She “steers” much better than before, and stops promptly. Mind you, this is in our fenced 5 acre pasture; haven’t tried open country yet. My husband took video so I could see how she moved, and to my amusement, I could see her try to play with the bit that wasn’t there, mumbling around in her mouth with her tongue, probably wondering what the deal was!

      • Rosie

        August 8, 2014 at 6:31 am

        If bits stopped horses from bolting, their would be no fear EVER of a horse spooking and bolting when using a bit. NEWS FLASH: A bit can’t stop a horse that wants to bolt!

      • Michelle Zinitz

        August 8, 2014 at 10:42 am

        I am always going to consider myself a new rider. Ten yrs. now…..I have experienced a runaway ride on my horse, with what I would consider a serious bit in his mouth. People have said, and I find this to be true, a horse can run through any bit. Circumstances differ in each bad experience. When I can, I ride my horse in a bosal type hackamore, and the nose band is wrapped in fleece so it doesn’t cut his face. Anything can happen at any time. It is the risk we take.

      • Bre

        December 28, 2014 at 11:41 pm

        Bits are a very touchy subject to horsemen and horse women because some believe they work and some (such as me) believe they don’t. I am against riding with a bit because it can cause pain in the mouth and most riders don’t know how to use them properly. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t use one sometimes. You are not the only one who’s had a bitless gone bad. My lease horse hasn’t taken a bit with his other riders and the barn didn’t have a bitless bridle so that’s when I decided to go bitless and he was almost perfect(well for a green horse anyways). The only thing about riding bitless is you have to make sure the noseband is a bit behind or lined up with its first few molars. If not the little ‘ledge’ of the horses skull could possibly break if you pull or jerk too hard. If it’s on it’s nose in front of the ledge it can restrict breathing a bit. Other than that bitless is great as long as you introduce it to the horse and don’t start on the trails. Here’s something to note: bits DO NOT control the horse! A lot of people will suggest upgrading to a larger bit if the horse doesn’t listen but that’s not true, it will just cause pain and/or discomfort. Control whilst riding is attained from proper training and establishing a relationship with the horse. I would suggest slowly introducing bitless and slowly going away from bits. Another thing to note is bits ARE NOT motivators!! If they were every horse would take it and do as you wish. But that doesn’t happen. Bits can actually cause many problems in the mouth and (as my lease horse did because the bit brought pain) associate the saddle with the bit and then that with discomfort. So, I would strongly suggest going bitless.

      • Sandy

        May 13, 2015 at 3:14 am

        10 horsemen (or women) in a room with 10 different opinions on the same horse and yet it is possible for them all to be right. We all need to stop being touchy 😉

    • barbkeith

      August 8, 2014 at 8:43 am

      A friend just rode one of my horses in a Nurtural on Monday and he was great. He throws his head a lot usually but didn’t with it. I use a sidepull with a rawhide noseband (covered with a halter fuzzy) on a little pony mare who HATES a bit. She’s a totally different horse with a bit and without. I do have a horse that I wouldn’t try bitless so I think it all depends on the animal.

  9. Gretchen Keen

    August 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Yep. And had a similar experience as you but I was only in my arena and it was just my horse and I. We ended up about going through the fence because she woukdnt stop slow down or steer… will never ride bitless again. I wont even think about a hackamore or bosel on her.

  10. Cassie white

    August 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    From personal experience, a bit does NOTgive you control over the horse. The horse allows you to control if he/she wants to….or trained to do. Bitless is the same thing. You have to train that horse to yield to pressure… Leg pressure, rein pressure..etc. I have a horse that it doe not matter what you put on him…if he wants to run he’s going to run… Bit or no bit. I’ve been working on his bolting/fear issues and that’s the problem… Not lack of a bit… He ran off with someone when he had a pretty powerful bit in his mouth… Didn’t stop him… Actually the pain from the bit made it worse he was scared and in pain…RUN FOR YOUR LIFE was going thru his head.

    Just saying… Bits don’t control… Training does

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      Yes, the bit is NOT the answer by itself. I have learned my lesson not to do a short post…on a touchy subject. Training is the answer for sure. And education.

      • Beth Slater

        August 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

        Horse people are always touchy and very firm in their believes, I have learned. I use a simple snaffle bit and ride with a very light touch. Nothing cruel there. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. You have taught me so much.

      • Lacey

        August 9, 2014 at 10:38 am

        Ugh… Yes, people are touchy… I use a plain snaffle but I’m finding the brakes aren’t there when I really want them. So, back to the basics on the ground before I attempt moving to the curb bit. (Did I just say the evil C word? Oh my!) Lol. Good insight. Thanks for the post.

  11. Jennifer Wood

    August 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I would like to say that a true “bitless bridle” and a leather halter are not the same, nor will they have the same affect in a horse. I have ridden for years, mostly with bits, but am now using a name brand bitless in my (spooky, “tends to bolt”, horse). He responded to it on his first ride out when I had to do a one rein stop because he started to bolt.
    I’ve been in your situation also; teenager, racing horses and had the runaway situation but it wasn’t any better with a bit in her mouth! 🙂
    Thanks for all you do! 🙂

  12. Shelley S

    August 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I think there’s a difference btw riding in a halter and “boitless” riding. There are many well designed bitless bridles for sale out there. almost all I’ve seen have a “mechanical” element of some sort, like a curb strap sort of effect (I’m not saying this well!) Here’s one with good illustrations. and another with lots of good info.

    • Shelley S

      August 9, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      And reading other’s posts, I was directly answering the question asked. My first response, outside the scope of the specific question would have been to make sure you have a halt from your seat/legs PRIOR to riding without a bit. I’d even say that for riding outside a ring!

  13. Jen

    August 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    My only runaway in my whole life was when I rode bitless. I was also a teen and my reliable do anything go to quarter horse gelding took a notion to run home one day instead of walk. As you stated, nothing worked to stop or control and as we were galloping full speed down a steep grade dirt road I have up and hung on for dear life. Our driveway was at the bottom and required a 90 degree turn to go up it from the road and I was pretty sure he would slip and fall but somehow he kept his feet and I stayed on. Never rode him again without a bit and it never happened again. He was the sort to take advantage if he thought he could. Had a TB mare who I could ride anywhere with a string or bridleless in an arena. 2 different horses and needs.

  14. Alisha

    August 7, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I was riding in our pasture away from other horses and still to this day don’t know what my horse spooked at but he spooked, I was bareback with a halter, I grabbed mane and ducked to avoid a tree screamed and that was the last thing I remembered, my sister had been standing by watching and said I landed head first and was out for awhile, thankful for my EMT dad who checked me out afterwards…… I still ride bitless and have even gone bridleless a few times with the same horse, it was just a freak accident though and I still love him to death 🙂

    • Emily Boling

      April 15, 2015 at 3:31 am

      Sounds similar to my experience with my mare, ( kind of) she’s the type to think anything and everything wants to eat her ( working on that with good progress!) and my sister swore up an down she was the best horse ever and that I was just a crappy rider, ’twas true though lol anyways, my sister took me out to some corn fields to teach me to canter, I had saddle an bridle with a egg butt snaffle bit, all went well for a while, my sister was riding my other sisters horse (who hasn’t been worked with much at all and I would consider him green broke) and he LOVES to run, he’s a hot head and very very pushy, well my sister took off galloping with out telling me so my mare followed after, catching me off guard ( I was 13 at the time and she was my sisters horse then, now she my baby!) but I held on and my mare just braced against the bit and wouldn’t listen to a thing, then a herd of deer popped out of the woods and my mare jumped sideways and I went off head-correction, TEMPLE first, into a rock… I don’t remember much but apparently I got up and got back on…. I rode her back a good 30 minuet ride to our house then put her up and went inside.. That’s when I started repeating myself over an over for the next 10 hours! I had a severe concussion and memory loss, had to stay in the hospital for two days, and I had some nerve damage to most my calf where I somehow got kicked while she was running away… Now I’m almost 18 and me and that mare have a lot more history behind us! And a lot of it is with out a bridle and saddle,( rope halter for the win) because even before my concussion I hardly ever used a saddle on her, I wasn’t comfortable with a saddle and my mare new it and took advantage, a bolt can happen anytime and a bit ain’t gonna stop it! Now I just hop on with a halter and lead rope and head out to the fields and trails, and I can also tack her up with a snaffle or Tom Thumb, rarely though, I have to use it for showing since a bit less bridle isn’t allowed -.- Bit vs halter vs bit less bridle, It all depends on the horse, the person, and the amount of training put into the both of them, my mare happened to have more halter time from me then with a bridle, and we both had to learn to work together to make a bridle work more efficiently for us both when its needed. (and by us I mainly mean me getting to know her better cause she already knew me inside out!) But that’s just my opinion….

  15. Bethany

    August 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Have you ever tried, or looked into, Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle? It is quite different (and safer) than just riding with a halter.

    • L

      August 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      A friend of mine has a gelding who has one of those and is doing well but it’s worth mentioning that he’s an 18 year old who knows his job and seat/leg cues and listens.

    • ingridl999

      August 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      I have a couple of Dr. Cooks bitless bridles and have used them on several horses on the trail. It works ok but I find that with some horses I’ve had to pull REALLY HARD to bend them. So much so that I feel like I’m cranking them around. I used my Dr. Cooks bitless bridles for several years, but in the end I prefer a bit for refinement and communication.

  16. Peggy L. Packer

    August 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    My “bitless” mare came to me because her owner was terrified of her and kept putting bigger bits, longer shanks and bigger ports on her. She told me she kept tossing her head and trying to run away or rear. After watching her ride (the woman should have been arrested for animal abuse) I told her I would give her $1200 and take her off her hands…(I will probably end up in he!! for that, LOL) … the first thing I did was put a snaffle on her, she still had head tossing issues but calmed considerably. Turns out, though, she was trying to anticipate what was going to be demanded of her. She is a very intelligent well trained reining horse and no one had taken the time to get her trust or respect. My daughter used her in high school rodeo on barrels, poles, goat tying and finally as a queen’s horse. I rode her for years bitless (head tossing completely stopped) on trails all over Central Oregon BLM land. My grandaughters learned to ride on her, bitless, starting at 2 years old. She is 29 now and she is retired due to arthritis, but I am glad I was able to make the last 2/3 of her life a good one.

  17. L

    August 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Most people I know ride with bits but I do have several friends who trail ride or jump in hackamores and one friend who’s ex-racehorse who goes in a bitless bridle for everything. Everyone has told me “oh you should go bitless with your mare” yada yada yada. I haven’t and I won’t because when she decides to go its hard enough to bring her back with a bit. Not because she’s mean or scared but because she’s young, she likes to get moving, and she loves her job (jumping). I have ridden her in a halter for fun but when it comes down to trail riding or working I do not consider her a bitless candidate. Every horse/rider is different. Not every horse is meant for bitless, and not every horse is meant to have a bit. Maybe when she’s older and finishes coming to the realization that the jump is going to be there even if we take our time. Lol

  18. Anne-Marie

    August 7, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Never had a bad experience, we have 2 horses, one was started with a dubble broken apple bit, and our other horse is started on a ropehalter. Now I am riding both horses on my sit and a hackamore, When there is something they think they should be skared of, they Always check with me, if I don’t react they go on as if nothing happend. So sorry, no bit for me.

  19. Jane

    August 7, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I use a rope halter with the reins attached to the sides with snaps. The knots on the nose piece of the rope halter keep the horses attention. My horse yields his head just like he would with a bit. I haven’t had any trouble with the rope halter.

    • Robin McGee

      August 8, 2014 at 12:16 am

      Those knots can be brutal on the nose.Do you really need that to “keep its attention”? Not as much as metal on tender gums, but harsh. I make my own rope halters, but when I want to use one for riding I put a leather pad across the noseband and knots, or use a flat halter. It’s all in the training! Potential for pain is not required to keep attention or to motivate.

      I prefer to snap my reins individually on the loops under the noseband. I don’t like the way the sidepull attachment pulls the halter around on the head.

  20. Krissy

    August 7, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I ride my gelding in a bitless bridle. When it comes to control, he responds much better. Bits cause him discomfort. And I can steer him just fine with the bitless. If he gets ahead of himself in a race, I may need to put a bit more pressure on his face or see saw the reins, but he will come down. He just may not like it. 😉

  21. Tracy

    August 7, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    I usually ran barrels in a combination bit/hack. I had used the same bit for over a year and at a show a judge tried to tell me that the type of bit I was using wasn’t allowed. I tried to argue but without a rule book in hand I was made to change. I put my gelding in just a hack. When I came off after the first class cause he ran off with me, o searched the show for the rule book and I proved the judge wrong. I carry the rule book to every show now

  22. Tarese B.

    August 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    “Archaic form of torture”? Maybe in the wrong hands. I don’t feel that a horse would willingly accept a bit in it’s mouth if it was torture. I’m with you Stacy! Each horse is different and a bit-less system may work better for some horses than it will for others. I’ve never had any trouble with a bit and a gentle hand.

  23. Kerrie Regimbal

    August 7, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I don’t have a bitless story to share. My runaway pony wore one of those old grazing bits and when she decided to take off there was absolutely no stopping her! I’d never in a million years claim to know a portion of what you know, Stacy, but kind of seems like your mare may have had a whoa issue. LOVE your Jac videos!

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      Kerrie…yes, my mare did have a whoa issue…if I had only figured that out a day earlier…

  24. Tracy

    August 7, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I’ve never ridden either of my boys with bits. My “old faithful” paint has done fine with a halter and lead rope for as long as I can remember.
    My hot headed, ex racing thoroughbred has been in a long shank mechanical hackamore since the day I brought him home. Using a bit with him did cross my mind, as I’m sure he’d never been exposed to a hackamore before me, but I didn’t have one on hand at the time. He was and always has been responsive to my cues with the hackamore, even during those competitive running moments. In the end, my decision to not mess with a good thing has served me well.

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      Mechanical hack mores are great for stopping…I just hadn’t included them in the ‘bitless’ line up in my head. My mistake.

      • Robin McGee

        August 8, 2014 at 12:19 am

        I don’t think that’s a mistake, Stacy. Mechanical hacks are harsh curb bits that happen to not have a mouthpiece. Yes, they shout “WHOA”, but they don’t offer any more subtle communication. Bitless is supposed to be a kinder, gentler option and hacks do not fit that bill!

  25. Wendy

    August 7, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I am having a personal dilemma with this very thing at the moment with one of my horses. I bought her as a 3-year-old untrained and have been training her myself. I used a rope halter for all her training and she is going fantastically. A rope halter, as you know, can be quite severe as it can pack quite a bit of bite in the wrong hands, but I have been very conscious of using only as light of pressure as possible/necessary and she is immensely responsive to it.

    And now here enters the dilemma. Her potential as a pony club mount for my kids has altered my training plans for her and now I am introducing the bridle because she would “have to” where one at shows. Epic fail so far! She is so broke to the halter and my body for control, she rides like a dream. But add bridle and I have a head-tossing mess! My mare is so confused by this “metal *^&$#*” in her mouth and I am feeling SO HORRIBLE for putting it in there! I have always ridden other horses with a bridle and only these past few years have I started playing around with rope halters and natural horsemanship. Never before have I stopped to really think about the bit and why the heck we use it. My mare is clearly happier without it. I know with time I can train through the head tossing, but it is the moral issue of why should I make her get used to it?

    • Jennifer

      August 7, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      My daughter rode a real old pro pony in the Canadian Pony Club and even did the PPGs a couple of times and this pony was ridden only in a mechanical hackamore. We always cleared tack check. I’d check with your DC and if she/he doesn’t know, check with the Regional chair & National office.

  26. Leslie

    August 7, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I ride my Paso Fino gelding in nothing but a basal with a braided chin strap. I ride with 2 sets of reins now, because he did have 1 episode where I couldn’t stop him. So Now I use both side and bottom pulls on him, and no problems in 11 yrs. Thank goodness!

    • Robin McGee

      August 8, 2014 at 12:23 am

      Leslie, I have a few questions:
      1. What’s a basal? If you mean bosal (I’m the typop queen, you can’t have my title! :)), then
      2. Why does it have a chin strap? and
      3. How do you attach sidepull reins on a bosal?


      • Kahra

        October 21, 2014 at 9:46 pm

        It sounds as though she’s using a jaquima, like many people use for paso finos. My paso doesn’t like his, but he is extra responsive to it and he sure looks fancy in it. He prefers his cross-under bitless bridle, and responds fine in it.

  27. Maredith

    August 7, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I think horse people tend to get entrenched into certain ways of thinking. “Bits are cruel” “Saddle trees are painful” or “All horses should be barefoot”. I think a true horsewoman does her homework and then decides what tack/training method/feed etc is best. I was introduced to horses in CA at the height of the treeless saddle craze. I spent two years slipping and slidding while riding a crowhopping horse. I was so thankful when an older rider took me under her wing and said “You could have the best saddle in the world, but if your horse hates it then it just turned into the worst saddle in the world”. Horse went back in a treed saddle and was happy as a clam.
    During the same time period I also bought in to the bitless bridle craze. I got my bridle, tossed it on, had someone help me into my treeless saddle (because it spun so badly during mounting) and we hit the trail. Twenty minutes in my horse spooked at a dog and bolted. Five minutes after that I woke up. My horse had run right through his bridle and my treeless saddle spun under his belly. Thankfully, I had also been talked into wearing a helmet.
    That was nearly two decades ago. And after a few more tumbles, a few years of much needed lessons and a lot of research, I am now confident in the choices I make about my tack and horsekeeping in general. When leaving my property I absolutely ride bitted, treed and helmeted. My horse is in his golden years, but I like knowing he is comfortable in his tack and knowing that I can quickly and securely take control if our ride is influenced by dogs/cars/deer/other riders etc.

    • ingridl999

      August 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Good story.

    • Lacey

      August 9, 2014 at 10:45 am

      Amen! 🙂 They are very much individuals. Also, I thought the point of the tree is to put the weight on the muscles on the side of the spine vs. on the spine itself. I don’t ride bareback much. I’m pretty heavy and I don’t want to make my horse sore. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like a good tree.

    • Sandy

      May 13, 2015 at 3:31 am

      Could not agree more.

  28. Wendy

    August 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    I have been on a run-away horse with a regular halter. When I was a teen, our four horses got out of the fence and I found them 10 miles from home. My mom and I had driven to find them and when we did, I haltered my horse and hopped on for the long ride back with the other three following. About 1 mile from home, the three took off when they saw home on the horizon and my girl bolted on me. She was my trusted 4-H horse, been there, done that kind of mare, but also a thoroughbred. She was galloping faster than I had ever imagined a horse could go and pulling on the lead rope did absolutely nothing. Baling out at that speed would have been too dangerous so all I could do was pull and pray. I made it all the way into the barn yard aimed straight at the line of round bales. I just remember flying through the air, hitting the round bale and then falling to the ground. It was one of the most terrifying rides of my life.

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Wendy…we must be kindred spirits….

  29. Karen

    August 7, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Stacy, I’m curious – if this happened today, what would your reaction be? What would you do?

  30. Keira

    August 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I have the opposite issue. I can go halter and lead on the trail, but at a canter in pasture…stopping is an issue.

  31. Jayne

    August 7, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Ok, a leather halter? Not the same as a bitless bridle. It’s a HALTER. That was your mistake, not the fact that it was “bitless.” And that the horse got excited, bit or not, the end result would probably have been the same. Jes’ sayin’,,,,

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      Lol! Go figure, I rode her all the time in a mechanical hack more…so I guess I was ‘bitless’ a bunch of the time! I just never considered a mechanical hack to be in the ‘bitless’ category because it also works off pressure…but I do agree with you. Leather halter wasn’t a good choice! It was thin though….lol

  32. Donna

    August 7, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    I’ve just started using a short shank mechanical hackamore, only in the ring so far, but my gelding seems to respond better than with a bit in his mouth. I don’t think I would feel safe on a trail ride with just a halter on any horse. What are your thoughts on the hackamore instead of a bit?

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Mechanical hack mores are generally good for stopping, they work of the same idea of adding pressure when you pull, they just put pressure in a different place. Tons of people trail ride in them all the time.

  33. Keely

    August 7, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I find I have less “lift” of the shoulder in a rope halter or bosal. Lateral motions are more difficult because your horse would need to be very responsive to leg movements. I’m always riding green horses and the leverage from the bit helps. I start my colts in the round pen in a halter and they know very little once they know the basics I move them into a snaffle.
    I have a similar story riding in a halter on my first horse when I was 11. I always rode him bareback because he was so smooth and reliable. Took him down the road with a friend and her horse. He quickly turned around and bolted home after going about a 1/4 mile, I did everything to stop him, he stopped on his own when we got to the barn. I went and put a bridle on him and went back to meet my friend.

  34. Barbara

    August 7, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I have a friend that had been using a bitless bridle on his horse for a couple years and it seemed to be working well for him, until one day, still don’t know why, but his horse took off, running into thick trees and brush, knocking him off, he got hurt and cut up very badly, his horse got cut up but not as bad as rider.

    • Emily Boling

      April 15, 2015 at 3:50 am

      I was riding my mare through our woods and I’m guessing we hit a patch of stinging nettle, my mare took off towards some vines…. I ended up with a huge vine around my throat ripping me backwards at a canter, nearly hung me and ripped me off my horse! I still have the scare on my throat, it sliced the skin a bit and gave me a huge burn, right on my jugular vein too! Any deeper and I would of been bleeding everywhere! Then after then vines she ran into a thorn covered tree and my arm got sliced up, I still have those scare too… Luckily my horse didn’t have a scratch besides the stinging nettle, it went away in about 5-10 minuets and she was back to normal but I was battered and bloody, it about gave my parents a heart attack lol

  35. Cheryl

    August 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I progressed very slowly in my bit less riding than most I guess. My horse is 10 now and we made it to the bridle less/bareback trail ride when she was 9. I did many things along the way that got us there, without knowing that was where I was headed. As a 6 year old I was riding from her stall to the arena in her rope halter and then riding there. Later I bought a rope side pull and used it when we went to the beach so that I wasn’t getting my leather in saltwater. I bought a leather side pull two years ago, I’ve ridden everywhere in that one. The straps cross under her throat and she rides well in it. My horse has known a one rein stop and pulley stop (they are different) since she was 4 though. I have never relied on a bit stopping her. All the talk about bit less and tack less riding that has come about will probably lead to accidents with horses and/or riders that just weren’t ready for it. Case in point a 13 year old QH mare I put my non riding hubby on several times, one time in a side pull which unnerved my hubby…I kept telling him, she’s fine she don’t need the bit, but the thing was, he did. It was his security blanket even though he rarely had to touch it. Preparation on the part of both horse and rider can go a long way to making riding bit less/tack less a positive experience.

    • Emily Boling

      April 15, 2015 at 3:52 am

      I had the opposite problem of your huby! Lol

  36. Vicki Graves

    August 7, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I use a Dr. Cooks Bitless and love it. My mare responds much better than she did in a snaffle. Also, as a kid, I had a horse runaway with me…and she had a bit in her mouth. A more experienced rider got on her and she did the same thing to him. Not sure if your experience would have been any different had your horse been wearing a bit.

  37. Noeline

    August 7, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    So your goal in trying to ride bitless was to be able to communicate with your horse without the aid of tack. And the only way you knew of to stop a runaway horse is to pull as hard as you can with both hands on a piece of metal in its mouth? I am presuming the bit workers as a punisher then, not a motivator? Or are you saying the bit motivates your horse to stop so it will avoid pain?

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Noeline- My teenage goal was to ride like Alex on the Black Stallion on the beach. In my ignorance I overlooked the need for training. I tried one handed and two handed…and circling wasn’t an option due to the surroundings and our current speed. I didn’t say my story was a ‘how to’ but I rather thought it was clearly an illustration of what ‘not’ to do.
      As far as bits being punishers or motivators I guess it is all in how you look at it. If I tell my 3 year old child to stop and he doesn’t so I pull him to a stop by his arm…was it a motivator or a punishment? If I just stopped him from going into a busy road does it change anything?
      I understand you are asking if bits can cause discomfort or pain and the answer is yes. Last I looked at my herd of horses and all of their bite and kick marks I can also say that horses know very well how to ask for a request and then back it up with a kick or a bite.

      • Jess William Dyck

        August 7, 2014 at 11:59 pm

        I agree Stacy, as you stated in a previous comment that some people are Anti-bits, some posts on here may suggest that bits are a form of torture. The bit doesn’t apply pressure until the handler pulls on it. If you want to question if it is ethical to put bits in horses mouths, you first have to put aside our human thinking and look at communication from the horses point of view. Horses can get pretty tough on each other at times, that is the way it is weather we like it or not, nobody is going to change it. Is it ethically different to the horse if a human would get a little tougher on him with the proper timing then if another horse in the herd did the same thing? What I am trying to say is that if we would educate ourselves we would only need to use the amount of pressure required no less no more and also release the pressure as soon as we have become effective. Is that any different or less humane then how horses treat each other? I train horse for a living and have ridden a lot of horses bridleless but only because I always try to be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary. Now a lot of people only hear the “gentle as possible” part but if your goal is to genuinely be as gentle as possible then you wont take it overboard when you need to get as firm as necessary. Safety of the handler should ALWAYS come first. A great horseman once told me “My safety first, the horses comfort second.” In my opinion, uneducated people and bitless bridles are accidents waiting for a place to happen. Sorry for rambling on so but I will close by saying that as much as I love horses, I will NEVER put the safety or comfort of a horse over the safety or life of a human. That is just my humble opinion.

      • Noeline

        August 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

        I agree Jess that the ability to stop a horse is a training issue. Hitting and kicking a horse and using bits and spurs to communicate does work. But it doesn’t help a horse enjoy our company. School teachers no longer use corporal punishment as part of teaching school children. Likewise, there are now more positive methods of horse training, that involve the horses input as part of the learning. The more confidence a horse has, the less likely it is to bolt, and the more likely it is to listen. But training methods is a whole other topic we could all disagree on! I have a huge respect for Stacy’s ability to reply to each persons comments in such an encouraging way. Despie all our different opinions and experiences.

  38. Susan

    August 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    My horse all riesponse well to a Tom Thumb bit but…. I ride them in English hackamore a most of the time. Still pop the bit in from time to time just to keep them from having issues with a bit. I have tried the actual,bit less bridles and personally do not like them. They crisscross under the chin like a curb and it appears to me if I have an issue and have to pull, when I release pressure on my reins it is not immediately released under the chin. I like a quicker pressure release. If a horse is having issues with a bit then I believe you must first resolve those issues, either thru dental or training. Once they accept the bit and are responsive and well behaved you can switch to a hackamore or bosal. Again, just my opinion, and what has worked for me.
    Bit less bridles…… Not a fan.

  39. Laura Jennings

    August 7, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Hi Stacy,

    I’ve had or witnessed several bitless gone bad trail riding experiences, on various horses, with halters, boleros, hackamores, and once I even tried the Native American guide rope that rests just in front of the horse’s shoulders (you can guess how that one ended). But I was a dumb kid and not always supervised, and maybe it was my ignorance more than the horses’ problems. I’ve also had/seen plenty of bad experiences even with (because of?) heavy curb bits that caused rearing or other resistance because of improper use. My upbringing was very rough and tumble rodeo and ranching but I have since shifted into the gentler (sometimes) disciplines of reining and now dressage. From what I’ve seen, NO horse is 100% “bombproof” in EVERY situation. Even the best kids’ horses that have been around for decades and supposedly seen it all will still spook at ostriches (this really happened) or elephants (yep) or jump away from a surprise, random paper bag that gooses them in the wind (happened last weekend – I WOULD JUMP TOO!). Also last weekend, I rode my dressage horse, a massive 16.2 hand beast, out on the trail, where he is usually quite easy going, whereas in the arena he is fearful because of past abuse by a former owner. We were with a new companion, and my horse was already lit up from the moment we stepped out. Then my companion trotted off without warning and my horse took hold of the snaffle bit and tried to outrace the other horse. I’m a powerfully built woman or he would have certainly succeeded, bit or not. It took lots of see-sawing and then pulling his nose to my boot to get him stopped. Then I ended up trotting around in circles in the desert until he calmed and softened, which took almost 30 minutes. I doubt I could safely ride him without a bit, not with his history of abuse, especially when he is still learning to deal with his fears without shutting his brain completely off. I doubt he’ll ever be completely “fixed” if that’s even the right word, so he is certainly not a bitless candidate. But even the calmest and best horses spook/react at things out on the trail because I believe it’s in their nature. If the calmest and best horses do it sometimes, the not-so-calm horses will certainly do it! In the end, I love my horses but I also love staying alive and unharmed, so I keep my expectations realistic when dealing with horses, even if they seem “bombproof.” That means riding with a bit unless we’re going to a big padded sandy million acres without fences, roads, houses, or other risky obstacles. If they take off there, they can run themselves out without running into anything, or I have space to turn them, and if I fall off, it won’t hurt too much. But “there” doesn’t exist anymore except in my childhood memories.

    Thanks for listening,



    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      Laura- Ooohhh…that would make a really good post (or at least a really busy post) of stories caused by heavy bits that are mis-used. I have seen plenty of that too. What do you think?
      I am sad for your horses past…but happy he has you now:)

  40. Kathy Mahan

    August 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve been run away with 3 times in my life. All were in bits. The first was a pony a friend owned that had once thrown her into a barbed wire fence. I was one of those horseless,and desperate to be around horses even if I couldn’t ride kind of kids. I didn’t want to be annoying and not get invited back. The 4th of July parade went OK, when the pony acted up she kept telling me to hit him and not let him get away with things, but on a bareback trail ride later, he turned a corner towards home instead of going the other way with the other riders. He picked up speed and I pulled back with no response, I smacked his shoulder and pulled the other rein, nope. Then he put his head down, so I leaned forward, braced to pull his head up.. he gave one bob of his head and I rolled off his shoulder and somersaulted onto the dirt road.
    The next 2 times were my first 2 horses. One got spooked and headed back home. I rode him out until I realized he was going to have to jump into the creek at the next turn, so I bailed off his shoulder as he turned.. and jumped off the bank into the creek. The last I was able to stop, once she caught up to the other horses.
    6 of our 8 horses are Mustangs. We start them in halters and ride them in halters, then sometimes move on to a bit. They ride the pretty much the same. My favorite mare, is very mulish in her preservation skills even after spending 13 of her 14 years in captivity. She will not eat what she doesn’t think is food, no matter how many of the other horses do. We have to add Calf Manna (it has Anise, which she probably ate in the wild) to get her to eat beet pulp or Psyllium. She has destroyed every flymask and blanket we ever put on her… within hours of application. I have Myler comfort snaffles, I have copper mouth roller snaffles… she doesn’t like them. She will wear them, but doesn’t like them. So we stick to a halter, or a rope bitless/sidepull that I designed and tie myself. (I don’t like the cross over in the back bitless because they often do not release when slack is given)

  41. Elizabeth

    August 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Same story here as echoed above with my arab mare. Bought her as a yearling, did ONLY ground work with her for the first few years. Most of this was done in a nylon halter or rope halter working on moving with light pressure, to and away from etc. When she was almost 4 I decided it was time to get on her back. I worked with her in a snaffle bit on the ground until she was used to it. Got on her back after more ground work with that. First few rides went well, until she saw those “other horses” and bolted to them. Hit the brakes like only a 4 year old arab mare can do and I went over her shoulder and onto the ground and didn’t break anything like only a 20 year old could do! It was after a few more incident like that where I started trying different bits with similar results. It then hit me, I worked with this little filly for years on the ground, she understood pressure, try a hackamore with a short shank..maybe it was the bit! Nearly 11 years later she is mostly controlled by my seat, though the hackamore remains for the “just in case”. I think it’s all horse dependent. Some need a little more, for some a little less is more. That’s just me, but I love my mare and love my hackamore: )

  42. Liz

    August 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    My trainer had a mare I could ride bareback and bit / bridleless in a round pen. I never did try outside of that area without a bit due to the fact that she was young (6) and I was never comfortable riding her above a walk without a bit.

    By the end of it (her being sold) she was trained to voice and seat commands and I probably could’ve taken her in the arena without a saddle on and used only voice commands with her. Smart horse, but I wasn’t about to try anything that could possibly get me injured badly.

    I don’t ride any of the other horses without at least having a bit and I normally ride with a saddle. If I could work with a horse similar to that mare again, I would do the same thing and might step it up once I was more confident with the horse.

  43. Mindy

    August 7, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    2 of my horses love my bitless bridle and my hackamore… it’s too bad we can’t go to horse show like that – both of them perform so much better than with a bit in their mouths.

  44. Marla

    August 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I have a 13 yr old Appaloosa that was trained completely bitless until age 8 and then he was a handful. The horse has also developed ERU and is blind in his right eye. This past weekend my husband decided to trail ride him bitless in the Canadian Rockies. They were crossing a boggy bit with a handrail for hikers on the left side. The horses foot slipped in mud and seeing only the handrail on the left the horse leapt to the right (his blind side) and right into a deep bog. He then lunged out, landing on his left side on the trail and trapping my husband beneath him. He rolled completely over and jumped up, leaving hubby with a dislocated shoulder and torn bicep. I believe to this moment that a bit would have give the rider more control and this very dangerous situation could have been averted.

    • al khayl

      February 20, 2015 at 11:58 pm

      How would a bit have worked here. Interested to know.

      • Catherine Clark

        February 23, 2015 at 2:27 pm

        I’m dying to respond to these but I don’t see where to add my comments or to read the whole entry? Cathy Clark

        Sent from my iPad


      • Stacy

        February 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm

        It looks like the comments are being posted, although it looks like you replied to two people without writing anything…and did it from your iPad. Not sure what it looks like on the iPad.

      • Catherine Clark

        February 23, 2015 at 9:13 pm

        Sent from my iPad


  45. Stephanie

    August 7, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    My experience was not with my own horse, who I have ridden bitless for about 9 out of the 10 years I’ve owned him. It was someone else. I was riding my horse as I did a lot, in a bareback pad and a rope halter with the leadline tied into reins. I wasn’t planning on doing a lot with him, which is why I didn’t bother with the saddle. I just wanted to wander around on him for a bit. Then a woman came into the arena with her horse suited up the same way mine was, and I knew we were going to have a problem. Her mare was very aggressive. Her stall was next to the arena, and whenever you rode past her, this mare would pin her ears and bite at the air. And while being ridden, the mare would bite at other horses if they got too close. And her owner didn’t really have any concept that this meant she should probably keep her distance, so she wouldn’t bother to tell you when she suddenly decided to ride in patterns around the arena. This is what caused our problem one day.

    Basically, we were both riding in rope halters and bareback pads. My horse was used to it, hers wasn’t. Everything was going fine when we were staying on opposite sides of the arena as we were going around. That was easy, our horses moved at similar speeds so it was pretty easy to stay spaced apart. Then she suddenly decided, with no warning in a very small arena, to start doing figure 8’s. My horse, being the spooky Arab that he is, ended up spooking at something and taking a couple steps sideways. At this point we were a good 25 feet away from the other horse, but the mare took it as a challenge and charged at us, mouth wide open, ready to bite. Her owner did the ineffective “pull as hard as possible on both reins as if I have a bit in her mouth” thing. By some miracle, she got the horse stopped about 6 feet away from me. Then she just turned the horse and went back to what she was doing. No ‘sorry’ or anything. Just turned and rode away. Lucky for her she didn’t get any closer, because my leadrope reins were 12 feet long, and I had the excess in my hand and was fully ready to smack her mare in the face if she got in range during her charge.

    And by the way, I never saw that woman ride in a halter again that I can remember. She stuck with her bit after that.

  46. Katie O'Brien

    August 7, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    As a 12 year old I was in a terrible runaway on a friends horse who rode bit less. That horse ran for miles, and only stopped at a major hi way, out of pure exhaustion. It was so frightening! Many of my childhood friends have been involved in a similar situations. I do still ride in halters, and bridles less altogether, but I sure would not trust anyone else’s horse in a trail riding bit less situation.

  47. Diane

    August 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    I only ride bitless, I use a custom made soft rope nose band, my horses are 17, 14, 10 & 8 yrs old. I have never had a problem ever, but then again I bred & raised them, all except 1, and only the 1 I didn’t raise has ever had metal in their mouth.

  48. Rebecca

    August 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    As far as canidates go…… my Paso is hot, hot, hot! He was show trained, and for Paso Fino shows, they actually teach them to bear into bits. Pressure on the reins means lift your head up high and fino… yep. Refinement shanked bits are used. I’ve been able to identity some of the bits my horse was ridden in by his show pictures… one show he was wearing fish shanks, an indication they were having issues.
    It was clear to me that more bit wasn’t going to be the answer!
    People try to take their new Paso Fino on a trail, and wonder “Why won’t he walk?” and it’s because the common cue for slow is to release the reins, lower the hands, and sit deep and relaxed. This works great for the trainers who have the horses respect and attention, hardly at all for newbie owners, LOL. As one of those newbie owners, and wanting to do a variety of things with him, I decided to go a different route.
    Enter in a Paso Fino trainer who specializes in Natural Horsemanship. We did some liberty work, alot of liberty work! and I didn’t get to ride him for a month while I did my “homework” getting him to lead everywhere (new places) in the correct position without any pressure on the halter (we had to keep the drape in the rope). Trainer said if I could get him to go new and exciting places like this, I could ride him without a bit.
    We used a rope halter with knots, btw, but the most important part of his training was not to use it unless the horse was taking a hike, (lunge circles if they did).
    How much you don’t use it + how well you use it when you do = how it works.
    Once we were riding, we stayed in pens/arenas/pastures and practiced his tailored version of a “one-rein stop” which is just bending to a stop. He does it by *asking* and letting the horse move around until they decide it’s a good idea to give their head (in round pen to start).
    Funny thing about Paso Finos, a lot of them, you couldn’t force to stop with a one-rein stop anyway, mine can keep going with his nose touching his shoulder, finoing in tiny circles (lets not forget the part about biting my shoe because he wanted to just go). It’s just to make it awkward for them to keep going, and it works well done right. These are hot horses most people would call spooky.
    The reliability of the one-rein stop in every scenario depends on the flexibility of the horse. When mine gets excited, his neck comes way up, his neck gets stiff as a board, and he gets this super excited look on his face (he has played “games” ON me before “Oh, I am too excited, what are you going to do?” “Haha, I’m in charge, lets fino to the moon!” – he says). Even after lots of work at the walk, after letting him gait he would get stiff-necked and we would have to work on it some more.
    Lots of bending exercises for flexibility (where you ask for them to actually move with their head over in various degrees).

    Finally, we went on a beach ride! A big group of excited Paso Finos. Mine had never been to the beach before! The group energy of a whole troop of Pasos is pretty high, plus “out” in new places riding with no bit was a big thing for us!
    The waves were high, people on the beach to try not to step on while they lay on their beach towels. Funny thing is he found the houses on the side and the tall waving grasses more ‘spookable’ but he did great!
    Yes, we finoed all up and down the beach, yes we were very excited. Yet, we were much more under control than we had ever been riding with a bit!
    We even managed to get in the water (after finoing backwards snorting from the frothy waves a couple dozen times, eventually he believed me and went in). I was praising God looking out at the horizon!
    When the trainer I bought him from saw the pictures, she couldn’t believe I had ridden him on the beach in just a rope halter!
    In her mind he wasn’t a bitless candidate, and the same is true for most peope with their Pasos.
    Often the move is for bigger bits or more pressure, ect…. when really we could use less pressure and find the place where we are talking with each other, even when it seems impossible at first?

    Praise Jesus for freedom in His name! ❤

  49. GimmeADream

    August 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    I’ve rode all my horses bitless at some point or another and no, I never once felt out of control. But on the beach, at a mad dash and following other horses, one of my mares would take approximately 20 to 30 extra feet to bring up a complete halt. I don’t know if she didn’t want to stop or if she didn’t know the commands at that speed.
    I would still be riding my three horses bitless except I think someone stole my bridles. I have seen them in a very long time.

  50. flyingfoals

    August 7, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    When I was 10 years old or less, I was riding lots – and was experimenting with riding with just a halter – usually one made out of baler twine. I realized fairly quickly, that the horse was much harder to control(this horse did run away with me regularly – or at least for a while – until I learned how to circle the horse. Anyhow, the long and short of the various activities – was I learned control could become quite questionable in certain situations. More recently, Later, I have ridden in a bitless bridle, I found the steering quite different, with the ability to communicate with the horse not as good as using a snaffle bit.
    Though likely the long and short of riding with a halter/bitless bridle – it is possible to do so, the reality of the matter is – IMO – if a horse wants to run away – it is extremely difficult to stop them – no matter what they do or do not have in their mouths. When they run in this mind frame – they can be in panic mode.

  51. Suzi

    August 7, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    For a few years in my adolescence, growing up in the back hills of WV, my sister and I and a group of boys rode anything that came across our paths. If it was loose on the road, we caughte it and we rode it. We RARELY had a bridle, and never had saddles. We learned some creative techniques to turn and stop our mounts, galloping all over those ridges and hollers– we rode the hide off of those horses and ponies! I think fondly of those memories, but wouldn’t do that again, lol! I have a couple solid mounts I can ride in a halter, but I doubt I’d leave my property that way. Maybe somewhere back in uneducated history, bits were meant to ‘control’ and even hurt a horse– but I’ve never thought a bit was meant to hurt or control a horse. Some people are just so set in their ‘natural approach’ ways that they can’t see the forest for the trees. Properly trained, starting with the mildest of bits (and that term is even misleading) in training, a horse should never care to have a bit in its mouth. Its HUMANS who make a bit harsh. Good bits are designed to lay in a horses mouth in a natural and unobstuctive way, and trainers, real, good, trainers know the sequence of bitting practices that graduate a horse from one to another with no ‘harm’ ever done. One does not grab a bit and say ‘this one’ll control him!’, no, I would imagine even a bitless-bridle rider could annoy his horse enough if his hands were always bumping his face, and then, cues are lost just the same. Theres a huge difference from the way wonderful Stacy rides bridle-less in her competitions to the way I ride my pastures with just a halter on my horse. By no means would I attempt to do a bitless/bridleless reining pattern in a crowded stadium with my un-learned horses! Sometimes people get hung up on ‘proving’ themselves somehow, and being able to prove their ‘training abilities’ by riding bitless is their proof. But in my own herd of horses, I have some that can do all sorts of wonderful maneuvers in just their halters and bareback, while others I’d never consider riding without a bit in their mouths. Those ones are still well trained, but their nature tells me to just do what I know to do, not change it up. I know people who insist on putting the biggest bit and a tie down on every single horse they ride. That is so wrong also, but I can’t find anything wrong with putting a bit in a horse’s mouth, when seemingly its mouth is designed naturally for a bit to be in it: it only becomes wrong if used wrong.
    Stacy, I tell all my young students to find your bridleless rides on youtube so that they can be inspired!

    • Stacy

      August 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Suzi- I spent very similar years growing up in Maine the same way. My friend’s mother bought and sold horses and we would often take off down the trails or roads with little or no knowledge of the horse. I learned plenty about what DIDN’T work back then…and I can certainly verify that a bit alone, with an untrained horse, will not stop the horse. I have more run-away stories (not that I’m feeling encouraged to share them 🙂 which makes what I have learned now about being able to ride horses without a bridle even sweeter. I have been on both ends; totally out of control with a bit and totally in control without a bit.
      I just wondered if others had done something similar. I thought if other people HAD done the same thing I had then I could see how often this mistake is made…I had no idea it was a hornets nest. I am so glad that your students are inspired by that ride:)

      • Jackie

        August 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm

        I had a run away horse with a bit; and all the pulling in the world was not going to stop that horse. What I have learned in the past year from reading your blogs and watching videos has changed the way I ride, play and interact with my horse. I would still have my first ever horse at age 55 had I learned all this 1 year before his arrival. I still feel sad that I gave him up after the run and a bad fall. But I would not give up all the learning I have done since. Thank you Stacy!

  52. anna Clacy

    August 7, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    It comes down to training. A horse in a bit responds to the fear of pain (no matter how soft your hands are) when that fear is taken away the truth comes out. Peoples bad Bitless experiences come down to lack of foundation training. The trust and respect have not been firmly established. In my experience every horse that has had trouble going Bitless had gaps in their foundation training. Many people don’t even know those gaps are there as they don’t know what to look for. Everything seems fine on the surface. I have seen it time and time again. Horses are so subtle that often we miss those little things (like slightly dropping the shoulder, nudging you with its head, the swish of the tail) that if not corrected can cause things to go bad when the pressure is on. It’s like a house. If the foundations are not strong and solid it might weather a few smaller storms but when the massive storms hits everything is going to fall apart. A bit will not stop a horse from bolting……only good training will do that and some horses take WAY more training than others.

  53. Stephen Smith

    August 7, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    I have a six year old Mustang mare and I always ride bitless. I am using a hackamore now but sometime use a side pull. She is so “worried” about a bit that when ridden with one she dosent pay attention to riding.
    I have never lost control but, a “trainer” I had did. She was flexing the horse from side to side, for a long time. The trainer was holding the reins loosely with the thumb and index finger.
    The horse got tired of it and, bolted pulling both reins from the trainers hands.
    I am much bigger than she was and the horse is not real big. So far, I have not had any trouble with her. Except, forward motion and, we are working on that. Lol

  54. Bridget A

    August 7, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    I’ve had one bitless disaster, and hope it will be the only one. I was fairly new to having horses, with a horse (Lady) my mom was free leasing from a friend. They had come over a few days after dropping Lady off to use our round pen to work with another horse and had saddled Lady up and gone for a ride with me. We’d ridden over the farm and through our cow herd since both the horses enjoyed the cows. When we were done, the horse they were going to work had calmed down from the haul and so we untacked my horse and they decided I should take Lady for another ride around the pasture as they all felt she and I would do better as she had better training than my own horse. We were riding back through the pasture heading towards the cows when she spun 90 degrees and bolted straight for the stone wall and fence that separated the pasture from the road. That bitless bridle was completely useless, I tried turning her, tried the one rein stop I had learned with my own horse but she just kept going. We ended up jumping the stone wall and fence, she tripped in the ditch beside the road, bolted across the road (thankfully there were not cars), jumped the ditch and stone wall on the other side of the road and ran through the woods until she we got closer to a marsh and she tired and finally stopped. How I stayed on for the entire mess is beyond me as I had never had an actual riding lesson, all my other experience was either with my 4-H leader’s 25 year old Saddlebred that I was lucky to get to jog all the way around the arena or trial and error with my own horse, I had never cantered and certainly never jumped at that point and it was a very long walk home. We still don’t know why she spooked and bolted.

    I personally do not use bitless bridles on my horses. Both my QH and TB ride in eggbutt snaffles, when I got my TB my QH was often used by less experienced riders in my 4-H group so we bought an English hackamore to avoid any potential punishment from heavy hands and a bit and discovered she was happier and more relaxed with it so we’ve just continued to use it. My TB on the other hand looks for his bit and when I’ve ridden him in a halter or in a hackamore he becomes nervous, stop and but his bridle back on and instantly back to his usual laid back self. They’re both happy and relaxed and until otherwise I see no reason to change it.

    • Jackie

      August 8, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      What a story, I think I was feeling the terror of the moment as I read on … glad you ended up safe.

  55. Suzanne Rowe

    August 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Most of my horses go either way depending on what we are doing. Trail riding can be bitless but in competitive riding I want a bit and my horses seem to prefer that. I have one gelding that just will not quiet without a bit in the arena. I ohmoksee so he may use it for balance and leverage, something he just can not get with a bitless bridle. But I also had a mare I could do anything in, such as chase cows off the side of the mountain, using a basal. I agree with you Stacy it varies from horse to horse. And the best horse I ever had, there will never be another like her, would do what ever I asked with a simple bailing twine in her mouth, I was copying the Indian style of just a leather thong in their mouths. I even hung some feathers I found riding on it. But she was an amazing horse that connected to me totally, I believe she knew what my thoughts were.

    • Robin McGee

      August 8, 2014 at 12:53 am

      Please, what is ohmoksee? And this is the second time in my life that I’ve seen someone use the word ‘basal’ for horse tack. The first time was from another commenter above. What is it? I know what a bosal is, but not a basal.

  56. cowgirlmichaela

    August 7, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    We bought our first pony from a really old man. He forgot to grab any kind of halter, so he snatched a piece of baling twine off the ground and wrapped it around her neck. I had never ridden without a bridle or bit, but I jumped on. No, nothing bad happened, but I was astonished and pleased.
    After owning that same horse about a month, I tried to do the same thing, but couldn’t get that control back. She lost weight and wasn’t nearly so lazy, and wouldn’t stop, so I ended up jumping off.
    By the way, when buying a horse I would not recommend riding them for the first time without any tack. Just saying. I can’t believe I did that.

  57. Cammi

    August 7, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    I have raised and trained my quarter horse filly (3 years), and I can hop on her with a snaffle, a hackamore or with nothing on her and she stops and responds perfect. I also have a quarter horse gelding (12 years) that is the same, but my Arabian/quarter horse gets hot doing any activity other than trail riding. I have tried using a hackamore on him and when I do he responds better than usual.

  58. Linda Brintzenhofe

    August 7, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    I have a 6 year old TW gelding that I ride using a Dr. Cooks bitless bridal. The lady that I bought him from said she would never attempt riding him without a full cheek snaffle bit in his mouth because of his fast gaits. I watched her ride him and noticed how harsh she was on his mouth and vowed that I would never be this harsh with him. I have owned him for a year now and even though I did purchase a full cheek snaffle bit for him I have never used it…he is ever so happy to be ridden bitless and has never bolted with me in the saddle. We ride along a very busy road and through open fields….he has the best disposition and always seems willing to please me. He’s my dream come true 🙂

  59. Rebecca

    August 7, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    I am glad you post so openly, Stacy, even if people have strong reactions. Have you ever thought “desensitizing” people happens online, I have seen it elsewhere… plus, on that note, when the NH trainer I was using would work horses with small crowds observing (like owners, ect) he would lunge the horses closer and closer to us, and sure enough in an effort to be helpful, everyone would back away or to the side (all being horse people). He would do it so consistently that one day my eyes opened a little to what he was doing and I blurted out “Hey! You are moving our feet! You’re training us!” And the look on his face confirmed he was caught! Well, I believe his priority #1 was to teach the horse to be confident with crowds, and if he sent the horse somewhere, things would get out of the way (like riding near loose horses with a crop for them). People learned from the group to be more aware physically of what was going on, while orating and questions/answers were going on.
    So don’t be afraid to stir the waters with people, learning does happen that way 🙂 If no one speaks, who learns???

    I forgot to mention in my knotted rope halter story, that I do plan to work a bit back in eventually. Not for trails, but we will have to bit to show, per the rules. I don’t believe bits are pain inducers, they are pressure devices, and so is a rope halter with knots 😉 So is a rope around the neck 🙂 and so is your seat and legs, LOL. I guess I would rather not need to bit out of some timidity over my ability to be soft enough, but that won’t get fixed if I don’t adress it. I firmly believe the work we’ve done without a bit will help us with one.
    The Jac series highlights such important principles so vividly, you are obviously so gradual in your steps, I don’t see how any one could think your example of bitted and non-bitted horses are not far more comfortable and understanding than an amateur in any kind of gear.

    Move folks feet (in faith) 😉

    • Stacy

      August 8, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Rebecca….thank you, thank you, thank you for that affirming note of encouragement. I am learning a ton about myself through this whole ‘online’ thing and one consistent pain is being misunderstood. I can ‘hear’ people say that stirring the water is good…but on my side it often comes with the pain of being misunderstood. That last post was hard for me because I have done the Jac series showing how slow I go (is there a slooooow training award, lol) and because I have ridden multiple horses at a high level bridleless; this gave me a sense of security that people would understand where I was coming from.
      Your note, and several others, have helped. Thank you for the encouraging word, the moment of rest, the release of pressure, that I found in this post. Move folks feet (in faith)….I like it!

  60. Ian

    August 7, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I am a bitless fan…the Monty Roberts Dually halter works great for my Clydie Cross. Our 23 year old arab improved out of site when we removed his bit…he hated it. I would also love it if peope at least tried to get there horses to a point where they dont get shod. I would say most people do it out of habit and if given half a chance their horses would beneifit greatly without shoes…next on the list of important issues is the overuse of covers and keeping horses in stalls. 🙂 Times are changing, and for the better.

    • Sillyanda Clegane

      August 8, 2014 at 8:35 am

      We only have one stall on my farm, used in cases of medical need. We also never shoe our horses. They live on 15 acres of the best pasture in the county. People always ask how we get our horses in such excellent condition, our answer is simple. We let them be horses. I agree with your comment.

  61. Rebecca

    August 7, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Ps – don’t forget you can be divinely inspired on subject matter! (shhhhhhhhh)

  62. Ramona Orton

    August 7, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    I had one horse that bolted for home constantly until I switched to bitless. Turned out he had an old injury that caused the bit to hurt. My Rocky Mountain also does better in a bitless (he tosses his head with a bit). But I do still use a bit at times with my mare when working on refinement.

  63. Mary

    August 8, 2014 at 12:24 am

    I am a professional certified Riding Master and Instructor. I have been teaching and riding for over 40 years. I have ridden many different breeds of horses, owned many different breeds, ridden in many different bitted bridles and mechanical hackamores. Upper level dressage horses, racehorses and pleasure horses. The two times I was runaway with were on horses that were bitted. About 10 years ago I gave the bitless bridle of Dr. Cook’s a try and my horses loved it. I haven’t ever been runaway with or even close to it since riding in the bitless. A halter is not a bridle. It is for leading and tying and doing ground work. And yes, I have hopped on a horse with only a halter and “dinked” around the pasture or arena. I have friends that ride the trails in just a rope halter, which worries me, but I have yet to see them have any issues. A bitted bridle does not guarantee you will not get bucked off or runaway with, just ask any racehorse jockey or exercise person who can attest to it. They have all gotten runaway with sometime in their career. A bit does not control a horse. Training controls the horse. We all know at any given moment a horse can deviate from sound training and dump you with a buck, a shy or run off with you. A bit threatens pain in the most sensitive parts of a horse, its mouth. Most horses are compliant with a bit. I have found that my horses are extremely happy and more compliant with the bitless bridle than a bit. A bit is a tool and can be misused, just like spurs and whips. I choose bitless over a bit. But I’m not against putting a bit in a horse’s mouth if the horse’s training is lacking in some areas that probably require it. I have seen serious issues resolved by merely putting the bitless on a horse. I was ask to demonstrate it on a racehorse who had to have his tongue “tied down” for racing. I galloped the horse in the bitless and his owner was extremely impressed because the horse never once opened his mouth or let his tongue flap outside of his mouth. The horse was extremely compliant during our gallop and when it came time to bring him down to a walk, it was almost to fast! It takes a racehorse quite a distance to slow down from a full gallop and this guy just shut it down as soon as I asked. Unfortunately the horse never got to race in the bitless because he sustained an injury before his next race and was retired.

  64. Curtis Clark

    August 8, 2014 at 1:03 am

    I was a green rider on a horse with issues. I started off with a German martingale on a grazing curb (I shudder even now to think of the leverage), because each of the pieces had been recommended separately by people I trusted. Not surprisingly, he fought and I pulled him harder. I switched to a snaffle and that worked somewhat better, but it was clear to me that he could run through any bit that was comfortable, and spend all his time fighting any bit that he couldn’t run through. I had read something in Parelli about rope halters, so I rode him in a rope halter for over a year, and we started building a relationship. I moved back to a snaffle on the advice of an instructor, and then to a Myler Level 3, which greatly reduced the feedback loop of agitation acted out as fighting the bit, resulting in elevated agitation. When at an arena obstacle course, it became apparent that he would either jig between obstacles or fight the bit, I decided to return to the rope halter. His calmness and responsiveness since have amazed me. If I continue to explore classical dressage, the day may come when I need a bit to teach a specific movement, but his circles, leg yields, and sidepasses are better in the halter than they ever were with a bit.

  65. Anne

    August 8, 2014 at 1:21 am

    I’ve always ridden my horses in rope haters following the Parelli method. I’ve doneustering, beach riding, trail rides etc. never had a problem BUT always did loads of ground work first, making sure that they “give” to one reign when I use one finger or move my other hand towards her neck i.e. simulating direct/ indirect reign.
    This has to be spot on before I would even get on!
    I then repeat this process after mounting.
    I do this before every ride plus other “Pre-flight checks”.
    Horses position in the herd change all the time so I see it as reaffirming leadership each ride.
    I also play give/ release games with them as I ride as I think this helps to keep them left brain or thinking. When a horse is in flight it is right brain and not thinking, just reacting.

  66. Karen Montgomery

    August 8, 2014 at 2:20 am

    I ride horses in a hackamore (Bosal). I consider that bitless. I like to start colts using this. It requires a pretty solid trained horse to go riding down the road and in unknown territory. Old hands used to tuck a lead rope in their belt so if they fell off or had a mishap, they weren’t left behind to die. You had a good learning experience at a young age. The horse wasn’t trained enough in company and had been previously taught to run with another horse. I think he was doing what he thought he should. Another point is that when riding in company, riders need to be in tune with the others with them and be considerate. Not looking back to see the effect of running on ahead is irresponsible. That said, it is something I think we’ve all done at some point.

  67. Teresa

    August 8, 2014 at 2:32 am

    I can’t believe that people with any knowledge about how a mechanical hackamore operates would consider it to be in the same category as a bosal or plain halter. Mechanical hackamores act as a vice and tighten around the horse’s nose with increasing pressure produced with simple levers to multiply the force applied to the reins by the rider. There are several other “bitless” bridles that are equally cruel and apply pressure to the nerves under a horse’s chin with a piece of metal that actually fits between the sides of the horse’s jaw. I have known them to be called Quick Stops.

    I am COMPLETELY in favor of using the gentlest bridle possible on any horse and would one day love to have the horsemanship skills required to ride bridless.

    I always try to keep in mind that any bridle puts pressure on various places and misuse will cause the horse to become desensitized and not respond.

    I show Western Pleasure and Trail. AQHA requires that you ride a horse older than 5 in a bit but the reins are very loose so other than a neck rein, the bridle is mostly useless. Check out some You Tube videos from the world show and you will understand what I am talking about.

    • Kahra

      October 21, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      Have you tried to ride in a bitless bridle? My guess is that you do have the skills to ride bitless. My daughter started riding (bitless) at about 8 yrs old. It’s likely if you are showing, that you have more skills than she has! It’s a very easy switch from bit to bitless. I have a 2.5 yr old horse who I haven’t done much work with, who I rode just fine in a halter. I then rode her in a cross-under bitless bridle and she did even better–she is a very grounded, rocky mountain/kentucky mountain filly.

  68. Thomas Kepler

    August 8, 2014 at 3:37 am

    With all do respect, this same scenario happens to people every day while using a bit.
    A bit is No guarantee of controlling the horse.

  69. Roberta Jorio

    August 8, 2014 at 3:58 am

    Hi, Stacy! First I would like to thank you for sharing your knowledge!
    I am brazilian an I am following Jac’s training since the begining of this year and your facebook page. I would like to know the difference betwen bridleless and bitless (bridle and bit), because sometimes the WORDS are a problem for me especially when I read about horse training. Thank you and God bless you.

  70. firnhyde

    August 8, 2014 at 7:04 am

    I’m in full agreement with what you’re saying. Awesome article.
    I would love to be able to ride around in a neck strap, but I don’t have that kind of relationship with any of my horses – yet. I ride my mare in a snaffle four days a week, and then on the days when we go out for hillwork and interval training, I put her in a Pelham. She only needs the extra leverage occasionally, but I’m sure glad of it when it’s there. I ride with the softest hand I can and constantly strive to ride with a gentler hand, less gadgets, softer bits, but I’m not going to risk my neck – or anyone else’s – on a bolting horse because I’m worried I might bruise his mouth. If I’m going to be run away with I’m going to pull until he stops because running through a hole or under a low branch is going to hurt me, and potentially him, a whole lot more than a pull in the mouth is going to hurt him.
    The same mare I ride in a Pelham? I can barrel race her in a snaffle, no worries. The other day I hopped on her with a nylon halter and a lead rein and had 100% control at walk, trot, canter, half-pass, turn on the forehand, walk pirouette, rein back – you name it. It’s hands that ruin a horse’s mouth, not bits; just as it’s hands that ruin a horse’s trust, not whips or spurs.

  71. Hannah

    August 8, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Absolutely! I had two runaways (from a walk, mind you!) and several other friends who narrowly missed bolting by simply getting off and getting their bridle. Both were bridles either natural horsemanship type or dr cooks. I will NEVER ride “bitless” like that again. It’s hackamore or bit. MIGHT try a sidepull but nothing that contracts on the face, it maddens them.

  72. Sillyanda Clegane

    August 8, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I have an ex-endurance racing mare that I went bitless with b/c when she had a bit in her mouth all she wanted to do was run, full speed. Once I put the Dr. Cook bitless bridle in her she was able to relax and walk during road rides. I recently tried to ride her with a snaffle to a disastrous end. I was hurt quite badly, but it was a mistake on my part. I’ve healed well since and am riding again.

  73. RogueRose

    August 8, 2014 at 8:34 am

    I think that too many people do ride bitless when they are not ready to. I think before you leave the arena, you should have all four corners of the horse. That being said, things still happen. I ride my horse in a bosal. He goes very well in it as he suffered from a cut tongue before I got him and he really is not a fan of snaffles because of this. We have ridden in it for years – over all sorts of terrain, cantering, gallop, you name it.

    Well one day, we were trotting off and a loose dog (pitbull) came up behind us. Well my horse took off at a dead gallop. I tried one rein stopping him in both directions. I tried seesawing back. I tried sitting down for our stop cue. He was in full self-preservation mode and stiff as a board. I decided to bail as if he continued on the trail he would go down a ravine and it’d be the end of both us. I ended up shattering 4 ribs. Thankfully my horse did not end up going down the ravine, continued to gallop madly around me. He did calm down and I caught him and rode home. He was so worked up about the event that he ended up colicing (but was also okay) once we got home.

    Since then I have still ridden him in a bosal – at all speeds and on lots of terrain. He has been fine. We have ridden to a river for a swim in a rope halter. I’ve ridden in a neck rope in the arena.

    I do think horses can go bitless. But there will always be freak situations.

  74. Elizabeth J Nadow

    August 8, 2014 at 10:31 am

    I have ridden several of my horses bitless, around the home place. I’ve seen mechanical hackmores used and abused. I hate the things and destroyed 3 I inherited. I’ve had a much better experience fitting a bit to a horse, and developing light contact. My cutting mare works off my legs most times, the other horses use mostly a snaffle.
    More power to those who can safely ride bitless, but I’m not one of them.

  75. friesiancrazy

    August 8, 2014 at 10:32 am

    To me this is something of a moot point. If a horse decides to run away, with or without a bit, they can and they will. I’ve ridden horses in bits in similar situations who will not stop and where one-rein stop is not an option and horses in bitless bridles who are 100% more likely to stop/ listen to my rein direction than with a bit. It depends entirely on the horse and the horse-rider relationship. In my experience with bitless (which is limited to my own horse, I admit) it has been a fantastic teacher for both of us. My mare’s mouth is sensitive and she was constantly worrying the bit and finding any pressure too strong (jointed snaffle), which made her irate and amped her up. She hated being forced to do something! Switching to bitless, she took to it immediately, and while there was a testing phase, she was so much happier, and we both started to pay attention to and use the other cues of seat and leg we needed to use to communicate, building a relationship of mutual communication and respect.

  76. Jennifer c

    August 8, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    I’ve always ridden my horse bitless, had him since he was 1. He was trained in a rope halter and I still ride him in it, all u need is the one rein stop, bend your horse. I did use a mechanical hackamore, but now just a rope hackamore. Love it, and he can do everything my husband’s horse can do plus some.

  77. Stacy

    August 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I’m still not sure how this post turned into an argument about bits vs. bitless. I was simply relaying a story about my youthful ignorance and wondering if I was the only one who made this mistake. I was not condemning bitless riding…as I consider myself to be one of the strongest advocate of proper training that can LEAD to amazing bridleless riding. It is still my guess that people out there still make the same mistake I did. I know they do…because they tell me about it. But just to be clear, let me say again….I know bridleless is possible and I know mistakes can be made if not done well.

  78. Jeannine Verderosa

    August 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I am one of those people who fell into the “bits are evil” hype. My horse didn’t seem to be a big fan of the bit, pulling and chewing constantly. I decided to ride my horse in a rope halter. I rode her around and around the riding ring for months. She went fine. Steered, stopped, all the basics. She was a lot heavier and less soft. Anyway, one day I was riding her and she she grabbed hold of a branch sticking in the ring. It got caught in her bridle. She jumped in to the middle of the ring and stood, all 4 feet moving up and down in the “I’m going to bolt” motion. So, I immediately applied my very well taught one rein stop….nothing. No way in heck I was going to turn a panicked horses head with a piece of rope. Luckily, she listened to my voice and stood still so I can remove the branch, I’ve had her bolt with me in a bit and stopped her immediately using a one rein stop. That said, I will ride her in an English hackamore or a bit. She has gotten much better with the bit, she just needed consistently and education. People can say how much control they have bitless, but I would not trust it on a panicked horse. The same principle that makes a bitless gentle, also makes it easier for a horse to ignore.

  79. Angel Kaye

    August 9, 2014 at 4:47 am

    I’m now riding my second Arabian horse on trails and in the ring without reins (bitless and bridle-less, with a mere rope around his neck). On this horse I keep a thin (2 or 4mm?) halter whereas my first horse had nothing on his head. The difference is that 1st horse NEVER bolted, and we managed to forge a complete trust between us.

    I love my present horse, but he does bolt if I am not completely dialed in as his partner. He did this several times with bit and halter, and made his defining bolt while having a free head one day when I was more concerned with my phone than the reason why he had stopped. He saw danger and got nothing from me, so he took charge and got us outta there! It was only a few yards; I had to grab his ear, tumbling as he stopped (or he stopped because I tumbled…).

    So now this horse wears the thin, loose halter (no reins or lead rope–they are useless when he bolts!) where I can reach around and grab with both hands to pull his neck back and disengage his hind end. I’ve done it before when neither the bit nor the bit-less bridle was any help. I am good at stopping a bolting horse as I have had much experience, so that does help my confidence and minimizes risk for my and others’ safety. Btw, since that ear-stopping bolt, I have been a much better partner, so no more problems since!

    The best perk of riding like this is that now my horse responds 100% more quickly, is much more precise, and focuses incredibly well, especially compared to how he was with bit, bit-less bridle or halter. He always hated to have his mouth and face messed with during a ride. He is so much happier now.

    Nonetheless, my mantra is that if a horse has EVER bolted, make sure to have a plan regardless of how one rides! With a horse that never bolted, having mutual trust between horse and rider–a partnership–can make this method safe and uniquely joyful..but always only when involving an experienced, quick-thinking rider who has taken sufficient time training for this fabulous way of riding 🙂

  80. Monica Huettl

    August 9, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Very interesting topic. Like everyone else, when I was a kid was on a few runaways. I’ve been riding bitless because research shows how harmful bits are. The horse has to learn to tune into the rider, it’s the only thing that will keep you safe. A runaway horse is running from the scary thing on its back. I have an OTTB who has never run away with me. I constantly check in with the horse when I ride. I used to ride him in a comfort snaffle with NO FLASH noseband but have switched to using an LG ZAUM bitless bridle. This thing will stop a runaway train, but is also very humane and your horse can eat grass on the trail without a bit in his mouth.

    • Jeannine Verderosa

      August 9, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      I’ve tried the lg zaum on my horse. She ignored it like it wasn’t even there. Every horse is different and responses to different pressure points.

  81. kaitrin hanski

    August 9, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    This makes me feel so much better!! My gelding is not a bitless candidate. I long ago realized, that I may never have the control needed to ride him bitless. We can’t even ride in a snaffle. He has a crazy tough mouth and when not in a Tom thumb bit, has horrid saddle manners. But when that bit is in his mouth, he is the sweetest gentleman in and out of the saddle. Thanks for sharing your experience. We’ve had lots of scary moments like that until with started using the Tom thumb.

  82. Nicole

    August 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    I saw this post a few days ago on FB, and I have been thinking about it since. The bitless bridle is an invention brought to us by people who have mis properly treated and/or abused horses with the bit. Unfortunately, you don’t need a license to ride or own a horse. I commend Dr. Cook for his work on the bitless bridle, and I commend him for being a pioneer in humane treatment of horses. Here we are question safety with the public at large. I think the bitless bridle makes a misrepresentation that ALL bits are inhumane. I do not agree. The problem lies is inpatient and inhumane trainers, and inexperienced and/or ignorant horse owners. There is a problem if you need a torture device as a bit to achieve your goals as a trainer. There is so much pressure for young horses to perform these days. Trainers are expected to turn out seasoned show horses as two year olds. On the other hand, the horse rescues have made amazing strides, and are doing amazing work, but has left an opportunity for people to get cheap, “rehabilitated” horses, which are often times placed in beginner homes. Sometimes the horse rescues themselves are even a front for the opportunistic “horse salesman”, with little care for the future of their retired racehorse turned eventing horse. Even the most knowledgable and experienced horse person can have an occasional accident, but the inexperienced and misguided horse person will have the most frequent and perhaps most gruesome of those accidents. So, is the bitless bridle safe? That is a decision that can only be made between the experienced rider and her trusted horse.

  83. IG

    August 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I have to admit, when I read the blog, I too thought, hmmm, that’s odd. I’ve seen Stacey’s video where she was riding without a bridle. So, how come she sounds like she’s against using a bitless bridle?

    After reading her response, though, I see that’s not the case. She said she was talking about making mistakes going bitless and nothing else.

    Which yes, I’ve made when I first started. I began to use a cross under style (Dr Cook) and didn’t use it right. I made horses heavy on the front end and I later learned why: because there is no pain for the horse to feel “forced” to comply, the horse can easily lean into the bridle pressure and therefore become heavy and non responsive.

    that’s the selling point of that style of bridle, the pain free idea. yes, it’s true. you can annoy the heck out of the horse, but pain? there’s isn’t any. pressure is dispersed and there’s no focal point in it vs a bit which does add focal points of pressure as well as give the rider purposeful or accidental access to pain.

    let’s face it, not everyone has educated hands to use a bit proper, not to mention all the pain inducing bits that are made for just that, as well.

    So, further study was needed in my part.

    I then found out how I used the bitless bridle was very important. I had to use lighter “tug release” pressure, never take the slack out and just hold. I had to educate my hands to be more sensitive and of course learn how to use my body (seat, legs) more constructively.

    Once I learned the process, I found how fast and easy it was to retrain troubled horses (who had been mishandled by uneducated hands by way of a bit or a vice (mechanical hackamore)….who were just better off going with the cross under style because of too much negative association with the bit.

    Back to this blog, I think that there’s a lot of passionate people (myself included) who believe in the science behind bitless (excluding mechanical ‘vice’ hacks of course) and who believe that the blog…coming from a very well known trainer…sounded more like a negative toward riding bitless.

    Glad to hear I was wrong. 😉

    I myself have seen the changes in the horses that I’ve retrained from bit to bitless, so I can personally attest to the fact that a horse that’s been inadvertently “trained” to bolt or have other issues on the trail, CAN be retrained successfully with a pain-free bitless type bridle.

    BUT yes, the rider MUST educate his/her hands, seat, legs to accommodate the different feel that the horse gets…that can be “too freeing” and so better training must ensue.

    Is it necessary to go bitless? No. But if I have the choice after what I’ve been able to research and experience and experiment with, I’ve chosen the bitless over the bit and haven’t gone back. I find the changes and the difference in the horses are too great and too positive to ignore…

    I also admit, I do not compete. So, I have no need to use a bit because it’s what’s required. I trail ride.

    All that said, I think it’d be awesome if Stacey decided to “take the challenge” of testing out a few bitless bridles of her choice such as the Dr Cook. Who knows, she might feel inspired to write another blog about her NEW and improved experience trying bitless once again.

    • Stacy

      August 12, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      IG- I am interested in trying one of the ‘bitless’ (non mechanical) bridles. I am very confident that I can ride a horse in one…as I can also ride in a halter or with nothing now, lol. One of the main reasons I would like to try one is to be able to see what the pros and cons are as pretty much every thing has pros and cons.
      I have also had lots of time to think about the blog and the way that I wrote it. I left if pretty open by choice when I wrote it because I wanted to relay that it was a true story…a real mistake. I wanted it to provoke thought but I was surprised that I got labeled as anti-bitless considering all the bridleless work I do. Live and learn…and I’m hoping to learn more about the bitless bridles also.

  84. Kahra

    October 21, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Stacy doesn’t come across to me as being anti-bitless at all; she comes across as having a genuine question about bitless riding and wanting to know about other people’s experiences–seems very reasonable and responsible to me. If we don’t look at things from both sides, how will we ever be able to honestly address the question.

    Personally I ride with a cross-under bitless bridle in an attempt to avoid pain and anxiety, and most of all accidents, for my horse. My horse is a hot paso fino who was an unapproachable 3 yr old stallion when I bought him (I had him gelded). He was the first horse I owned or trained and I had no help training him. He was easily spooked, and bolted several times with me riding. I usually rode him bareback, and would fall or jump off if he spooked, but if I had a saddle on him I could stop him fine in his halter or bitless bridle. Twice when I was younger, riding my grandmother’s paso in a curb bit, I had the horse runaway with me so badly that other people had to stop the horse for me. That horse was very well trained. Now however I am well trained, and have more control over my horse bitless than that other horse bitted, despite the fact he is less trained.

    I’ve seen beginning children riders who listened to instruction show decent control in a bitless bridle, and I’ve seen beginning riders with less listening skills have no control in a curb bit. It’s painful to watch some children learn to ride with bits, as their hands can be so heavy. It’s such a shame 4-H requires bits for showing.

    I’m now riding my horse tackless in his paddock, and can get him to stop, back up, leg-yield, turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches, but I can’t get him to walk and go where I want him to go. I’d love to learn!

    • Cathy Trope

      February 23, 2015 at 12:23 am

      We start everyone in a sidepull…bits are for people whose hands are already quiet. Not for beginners. I agree that 4-H should allow bitless bridles in all beginner level classes, whether english or western.

  85. Robin

    November 16, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    The other point I’d like to make is that a “very stiff rope halter with 4 knots across the nose” is far from being a humane alternative to a bit. It’s extremely harsh and painful to have any pressure on such a device.

    I’ve always started my horses in a halter and used to teach them to understand a bit later. These days I have no use for a bit, whether riding trails, roadsides, a cross-country jump course, teaching a child to ride, or chasing cattle.

    Regardless of the hands, the presence of a bit in the horse’s mouth creates a whole set of problems that don’t exist otherwise.

  86. Cathy Trope

    February 23, 2015 at 12:22 am

    All bitless bridles are definitely not created equal. I had MORE luck with a bolter in a sidepull than a bit. She had been pulled on so much previously that her jaw had been broken! The sidepull allowed me to get control of her head and circle, which turned out to be a very effective anti-bolting technique. Do I think I could have turned her head in a Dr. Cook’s? Nope. Do I think a long shanked mechanical hackamore would have just made her throw her head and ignore me? Yes.

    • Catherine Clark

      February 23, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      Sent from my iPad


  87. Lauren

    March 28, 2015 at 3:58 am

    At pony club all of us (who grazed our horses at the club) would ride the horses to and from the paddock in halters bareback. Nearly every horse was totally fine with this. My pony at the time was very nappy, I had ridden him many times like this with and without friends and had been fine, however, one time i went up with a girl and we had to go up a big steep hill. She asked if i wanted to canter up the hill (we were still about 100m away from the base of the hill) I said i guess, she then took off at a gallop which i was not expecting, my pony folllowed her (my first time galloping) with his nose on the ground bucking most of the way up, some how i stayed on i don’t know how but i was very careful after that.

  88. Tracy

    May 2, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Well after reading this article, you have just lost me as one of your followers and supporters… pulling to stop with all your might is only going to make a prey animal in full flight feel more claustrophobic, and therefore want to run more due to that :(….Plus if you don’t know how to stop a horse without a bit there is something seriously wrong-what a shame as I thought you were great in all other areas 😦

    • Stacy

      May 4, 2015 at 9:35 am

      The above story was a story from my youth. It was told to give you a glimpse into the mind of a teenager who made a bad decision. The interesting part of the story is that I lacked the ability to know it was a bad decision at the time. My horse and I obviously didn’t have great training and I didn’t see even know I could really get in trouble.

      I will grant you that I could have written this better. I could have added more about my current training techniques and results but I chose not to because I have done so much of that in other posts. If this post made one person think before they randomly decided to try bridleless riding because they thought it was ALL about relationship while skipping over training then it was worth writing.

      Lol, “if I don’t know how to stop a horse without a bit”…

    • Kahra

      May 4, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Wow Stacy, you made a mistake with a horse as a teenager–you pulled to stop a horse. How unheard of! Anyone who ever has made a mistake with a horse as a child should not be allowed to ride. Actually anyone who has ever made a mistake is a horrible person. Really, only people who are perfect have anything to offer in this world. Some people say we can learn from mistakes (losers, all of them). LOL.

  89. Tracy

    May 4, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Stacey, thanks for your feedback. Apart from watching you on youtube, this is the first post I have ever read of yours, so I wasn’t familiar with any of your other articles up until today, hence why I reacted the way I did.

    Unfortunately your post did come across like you were saying bitless riding wasn’t good for all horses, ….and I can now see through further reading and research on your approach, that is not what you meant at all.

    What my research showed me was that you are a kind lady, who puts horse welfare first, along with having a passion for horses that rivals my own. Therefore I would like to publicly apologise for my comments on my previous post, and tell you how wrong I was about you-I am so very sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusions.

    I would conclude that myself, and others, merely felt the frustration of hearing a reputable clinician like yourself , stating that you thought not all horses could go bitless, and we were worried this could have an impact on the benefits of bitless horses through your followers….

    I now know that this is not what you meant and look forward to learning more about you 🙂

    • Kahra

      May 4, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      That’s awesome you took the time to learn more about it and re-post about your new understanding of the situation as a whole. How much better things would be if more people were like that in general! I think there would be more people open to riding bitless if they were to really look at it from different angles and not just go with their initial reactions. Most people I know aren’t even willing to consider bitless as a possibility because they are so stuck in their past ways of thinking and being.

      • Tracy

        May 4, 2015 at 11:15 pm

        Hi Kahra, Thanks so much. I’m an Ethologist, and I help people to understand the psyche of their horses as to give the horse a better deal, so bitless has been a big part in that process for me so I support it 100% 🙂 It’s always great to meet like minded people 🙂 So a big hello to you 🙂

    • Stacy

      May 5, 2015 at 4:53 pm

      🙂 I am also looking at going more in-depth into this subject to bring clarity to this. If anything, this post showed me that the topic deserves better coverage. I train all my horses in this direction and really should take the time to put the info out there. Thanks for the extra nudge, lol.


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